REVIEW: POKER FACE (Kings Head Theatre) ★★★★


POKER FACE is a skilfully written and very funny play, set in Prague in 2011. The action all takes place in the apartment of Jana, a wealthy, hard headed, independent woman and her daughter Pavlina. The feeling is more Woody Allen Hollywood rather than cold European reality. It is literate, even in translated form.

The story looks back to the recent troubled past of the Soviet dominated Czechoslovakia and the more recent, independent, Czech Republic. Václav Havel the Czech writer, freedom fighter and iconic hero for many of the Czech people does not appear in the play but is the éminence grise permeating the whole story.

In her youth, Jana (Lara Parmiani), had been an idealist willing to sacrifice herself for Václav Havel’s popular cause which famously became known throughout the world as the Velvet Revolution. She however, after the success of Havel’s Revolution, had been left without a cause to champion. So Jana, ever the intelligent practical one, reversed direction, gave up on revolution and became a brilliant multi-millionaire, capitalist, by playing professional poker instead.

We do not know whether Jana’s daughter, Pavlina (Lithuanian actress, Daiva Dominyka), is in fact Havel’s unacknowledged daughter. Even Jana does not know. She only knows that it was one of six fellow revolutionaries who, on a drunken night long ago, shared her bed. Jana for ever the Poker player, humorously refers to her daughter as being 16.6 percent (one sixth) Havel.

Pavlina is young, innocent and idealistic and lives at home in her mother’s luxury apartment. Unsurprisingly the glamorous, hard headed mother and idealist daughter, have a somewhat awkward relationship.

One day Jana comes home unexpectedly early, only to find Pavlina and Pavlina’s boyfriend, Viktor (Mark Ota), in a compromising position. However Jana does not appear to be too concerned, but then again she is a skilled poker player used to bluffing, so who can tell?

Jana is a very attractive older woman who later manages to lure Viktor into her arms, with the added promise of lots of money, which she offers ostensibly to further his political ambitions. They are however caught in flagrante delicto by poor Pavlina. That then ends the two youngsters’ nescient love affair which was Jana’s intention in the first place. A plan perfectly conceived and carried out by the master poker player her self.

Alternating drama with comedy, Poker Face portrays the lives of three people, with different motivations and ambitions, all against the backdrop of continuing radical change in Central Europe. The script is funny and smart and surprising. The acting is brilliant from all three of the cast.

This was the UK premiere of this interesting and funny play written by Petr Kolečko, one of the most successful Czech playwrights of his generation. The faultless English translation is by Eva Daničková who is a dramatist, translator and occasional Librettist. The play was excellently directed by the highly experienced Becka McFadden.

The in house theatre company is called The Legal Aliens International Theatre. The primary focus of the company is staging original translations of contemporary European plays.

The play is very funny and sophisticated and the cast are all first rate. If my arm were twisted I would offer a special mention to the lovely Lara Parmiani who played Jana with much humour, power and sex appeal.

Definitely worth seeing, especially if you have an interest in modern European theatre or simply enjoy a good laugh. This is Czech theatre at it’s best and at it’s best Czech theatre is very good indeed.

The Kings Head Theatre is a first rate, comfortable venue attached to a pub of the same name. The Kings Head Theatre was founded in 1970 and was said to be the first pub theatre in London since Shakespeare’s day. The theatre however is unfunded and relies on box office takings and donations from individuals. So, go there, catch a show and support this worthy piece of theatrical history.

Reviewed by Graham Archer

POKER FACE runs at the Kings Head Theatre until 31 October 2016